Park Record, September 25, 2021--
Early in 2020, the South Summit School Board of Education was once again considering seeking a bond to pay for a new high school, something voters had rejected twice in the previous five years but a move officials said was necessary to deal with an influx of students and overcrowded schools.
When the pandemic came, the idea of pursuing another bond fell by the wayside and officials scrambled to deal with unprecedented challenges. Immediate facilities needs, such as modular classrooms and security upgrades, were paid for from existing funding sources, according to the district.
Now, the district is under new leadership, and any bond is at least a year away. Superintendent Greg Maughan said the district would complete a new strategic plan to understand the academic needs a new building must meet before again asking taxpayers to support paying for the project.
Bond measures were struck down in 2017 and 2019, for $59 million and $87 million, respectively. Board members after each loss vowed to work more closely with the community to ensure any new bond would reflect what South Summit residents wanted — and have a better chance of passing.
In the runup to the 2019 election, officials described schools that were at or over capacity, with multiple portable classrooms in use. High school band students were walking to the middle school for class, for instance, because the high school media center and music classrooms had been converted to regular classrooms. Lab time for science class was limited because those rooms were needed for regular classes, as well.
Maughan said recently the district has done the best it can with the facilities it has. He extolled the importance of having a strategic plan in place before the district seeks a new bond.
Band-Aids that have been applied have seemed to be holding for the time being. District spokesperson Jodi Jones said the high school recently added a “portable” science wing.
“Although it’s technically portable, it’s not going anywhere. It was laid in foundation and is here to stay,” Jones said in an email. “It has four classrooms and one lab in it. The science lab has helped to alleviate some of the overcrowding concerns we’ve faced in the immediate past.”
There are five classrooms in three portable units at the district’s elementary schools, Jones said, two of which are being used while the Silver Summit Academy is being remodeled to accommodate more students.
The district released growth estimates produced by a consultant in 2018 that showed enrollment was expected to balloon to 2,500 students by 2028.
Though enrollment increases continue, and anecdotal evidence abounds about the growth coming to the Kamas Valley, student enrollment is slower than what was originally projected.
The 2018 study estimated an enrollment count of 1,995 students in 2021. The latest, unofficial enrollment numbers show 1,723 students, according to Jones.
Still, in 2019, the high school, designed to house 480 students, had an enrollment of 470, officials said at the time.
Maughan recently indicated it was a matter of when, not if, the board would again seek a bond.
“I think any time schools are utilizing relocatable classrooms, or portables, it’s generally safe to assume overcrowding is an issue,” he said.